The meaning of excellence
Comprehensive excellence (ihsan or itqan) is one of the most important Islamic values. It likewise constitutes a vital aspect of the conceptual framework for Islamic architecture. Excellence saturates every dimension of the Islamic message. Since Islam is a complete way of life, it follows that excellence is to be felt in all life’s spheres. When the angel Jibril (Gabriel) asked Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) what excellence is, the Prophet’s reply was: “Excellence is to worship God as if you see him, for if you do not see Him He sees you.”
Excellence is prescribed (kataba) to Muslims as explicitly as the other fundamental obligations, such as praying (salah), fast (siyam) and struggle for the holy Islamic cause (jihad).
The Prophet (pbuh) once said: “Indeed, Allah loves when one of you does something that he does it to perfection.” It is interesting to call to mind the context in which these words of the Prophet (pbuh) were uttered, thus drawing attention to the seriousness of the matter. When the Prophet’s son Ibrahim died and was buried, some unevenness had been left in the earth on his grave. The unevenness must have been minor in that the people were able to overlook it. It was such a sad occasion, so it was unthinkable for anyone to say or do anything, no matter how trivial, that could aggravate the people’s feeling, in general, and that of the Prophet (pbuh), in particular. Noticing the unevenness, the Prophet (pbuh) leveled the earth by his hand and made the above statement.
During the process of building the Prophet’s mosque in Madinah in which practically all Muslims participated, the Prophet (pbuh) also called people’s attention to the significance of excellence. It is reported that a man in course of building the mosque was expertly treading clay for making bricks of which the mosque was built. On seeing him, the Prophet (pbuh) said: “May Allah have mercy upon him who excels in his profession.” And to the man he said: “Keep doing this job for I see that you excel in it.”
Therefore, Islam is a religion of excellence. Muslims are to strive for excellence in all that they do: in both religious rituals and pure worldly affairs. All forms of deliberate mediocrity, which is the opposite of excellence, are deemed against the spirit of Islam and are thus disproved off. Human actions, if executed in the spirit of deliberate mediocrity, are likely to be repudiated by God. So important in Islam is integrating excellence into human actions that it represents a condition for such actions to be accepted by God.